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Collecting a debt

We sometimes refer to someone as “judgment proof.” They have many creditors chasing them with dozens of lawsuits. They keep nothing in their name, no bank accounts; they do all their business in cash. They hide their income; they do not worry about their credit rating. Why pay their creditors? They are “judgment proof.”

There is one little law that few people know about that sometimes can be used to collect from a deadbeat. You cannot collect from a turnip, but sometimes you can from a deadbeat.

If the debt arises out of a traffic accident and the other driver was at fault and did not have insurance, if you brought a suit against them, you probably could not collect. There is hope; go ahead and file a lawsuit and get a judgment and record your judgment with superior court. Under Arizona Revised Statute 28-4071, the motor vehicle division will jerk his driver’s license. If he really needs a driver’s license, he just might pay your judgment.

I had someone call me who was very upset. His license had been suspended and he was yelling at me and saying very unkind things. He had paid his fines for his traffic citations. Why had his license been suspended?

I looked at his records and found where he had been sued involving a traffic accident and he failed to appear at the hearing. Why worry? It was just one more suit he planned to ignore.

The court issued a judgment against him. Of course, he was a professional deadbeat and had no assets in his name. He had a dozen people trying to collect from him; he was not worried. He was “judgment proof.”

The plaintiff filed the judgment with superior court and his license was suspended. Now, they had his attention. He needed a driver’s license. He was mad. I informed him of what had happened and of ARS 28-4071. He was not happy and hung up the phone. If he needed that driver’s license bad enough, he probably paid the judgment.

Lesson: You cannot get money out of a turnip but you just might get a deadbeat to pay you.

Retired Judge Tolby can be reached at